The Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry is using the austerity drive as a pretext for nudging educational institutions into revising tuition fees, levying user fees and withdrawing hostel subsidies. In a September 12 directive to all autonomous and statutory bodies under the Ministry, Higher Education Secretary R.P. Agrawal said: “Given the constraint of resources leading to mandatory cuts in non-salary expenditure, it is expected that the institutions would make efforts to generate additional resources by gradual revision of tuition fees, levy of user fees, withdrawal of hostel subsidies and through other measures.”

This suggestion has been made by the Ministry in view of the mandatory 10 per cent cut in non-Plan expenditure imposed by the Finance Ministry for this fiscal. Since no relaxation is possible in this directive, the HRD Ministry has proposed the cut in education subsidies as a means for raising resources for laboratory equipment, books and journals. In the first edition of the United Progressive Alliance, the Ministry had rejected a similar proposal of the National Knowledge Commission (NKC).

In its report on higher education, the NKC had stated that fees should constitute at least 20 per cent of the total expenditure in universities. The NKC’s contention was that this would ensure that those who can afford to pay do so, while education is subsidised for those who cannot.

As in the case with Ministers and bureaucrats, educational institutions have been asked to organise seminars only when absolutely necessary and restrict travel to the bare essential. “Class of travel during foreign/domestic travel should be strictly adhered to” and there can be no purchase of vehicles this year. Aware that institutions resort to advance payments for execution of contracts to show utilisation of funds, the Ministry directive clearly states that all such payments should be made only as per the provisions of the contract. Given that a similar directive was issued by the Ministry in July 2008 with little effect, Mr. Agarwal’s letter on ‘Expenditure Management — Economy Measures and Rationalisation of Expenditure’ takes note of this and points out that this time round the Finance Ministry’s instruction.

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